Official: 'Dark Side' of Serb Nationalism Returning

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, says Serbian leadership is facing backward. He tells Jacki Lyden that Serb leaders have not given the U.S. a satisfactory explanation about why they did not deploy adequate police to protect the embassy Thursday.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

I've been joined now by Nicholas Burns, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Welcome to the program.

Under Secretary NICHOLAS BURNS (U.S. Departmentof State for Political Affairs): Thank you very much.

LYDEN: Secretary Burns, the Serbian government sponsored a huge rally on Thursday to protest Kosovo's independence. Now, the vast majority of the demonstrators were peaceful, as we've heard, but does the U.S. believe the Serbian government somehow incited or fomented the rioting and attack on the U.S. embassy and the other embassies?

Under Sec. BURNS: Well, put it this way. The Serb government did fail to protect our embassy. There were police around the embassy. They disappeared and melted into the crowd as the mob attacked our embassy. We had 14 people inside. The mob set fire to the ground floor of the embassy. They tried to break further into the embassy. It was a very dangerous situation. And I called the prime minister of Serbia, Prime Minister Kostunica, and I said we hold him and his government to be personally responsible for what happened.

Unfortunately, there have been all sorts of provocative statements, incendiary language by the Serb ministers in the days leading up to the demonstration, and unfortunately, I think we're seeing a return of the darker side of Serb nationalism and the ugly face of Serbia (unintelligible) that produced this very, very unfortunate and disagreeable episode the other day.

LYDEN: What sort of rhetorical suasion do you think you have with the Serb government? Have they given you any assurances that this won't happen again?

Under Sec. BURNS: Well, the prime minister and the foreign minister personally gave me assurances that our embassy would be secured. We're going to hold them to that. The Serb government, unfortunately, is whipping up sentiment in his own country in opposition to what the European Union and the United States have done in recognizing Kosovo, and I think what we're seeing is we're seeing the last act in the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

And unfortunately, the Serb leadership seems to be facing backwards, not forwards, and we would urge them to think in more modern terms, recognize Kosovo, get along with the people there and put all of these historic enmities and animosities behind them.

LYDEN: Did anyone give you an explanation for why the government didn't deploy enough riot police?

Under Sec. BURNS: There was no valid explanation. I asked why the police did not stay, why they weren't there in the first place in adequate numbers, and the prime minister and the foreign minister could not give me an explanation for what happened, and it is one of the fundamental responsibilities of host country to protect foreign embassies in conflict.

And in a country that is quite anti-America, in a country that is opposed to American policy in Kosovo, they should have anticipated that that huge crowd on Thursday night, some of those people would have turned violent, as they certainly did.

LYDEN: Now, we just heard from our correspondent in Belgrade, Sylvia Poggioli, that even the pro-Western groups in Serbia, people that the U.S. would term Democrats, are feeling betrayed because the United States recognized Kosovo without the United Nations passing a new resolution on its independence. What do you say, Secretary Burns, to those people who are feeling betrayed?

Under Sec. BURNS: Well frankly, I find that quite hard to believe, and I find that a, historical - let's remember the history here. The Serbs started four wars in the 1990s, and they were bloody wars, the Bosnian War for instance, 250,000 people killed and two million homeless. That's when NATO went in. We saved those people. We stopped the war. We've kept the peace for nine years, and the United Nations took Kosovo away from Serbia in June of 1999, and the province has been under U.N. administration since.

The independence of Kosovo was recommended by the United Nations by special envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The great majority of countries in Europe have recognized Kosovo as independent, so for the - for Serb nationalists or the Serb government to say somehow this took them by surprise, it is just beyond belief that they would hold that opinion.

LYDEN: Nicholas Burns is the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Thank you again for being with us.

Under Sec. BURNS: Thank you very much.

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